Nel's New Day

June 22, 2012

Celebrate Title IX

Forty years ago tomorrow, Title IV tried to stop gender discrimination in public education when President Richard Nixon signed the bill. It’s had a rocky road throughout the years while some people try to get rid of it and others just try to circumvent it.

Cornell counts men who practice with the women’s fencers as female athletes under Title IX.  Texas A&M and Duke do the same thing, except in reverse, on the women’s basketball teams. At the University of South Florida, more than half of the 71 women on the cross-country roster didn’t know they were on the team. At Marshall University, the women’s tennis coach signed up three freshmen who didn’t have to practice or travel with the athletes.  Two years ago, a federal judge ruled that Quinnipac University violated Title IX because it required women cross-country runners to also join the indoor and outdoor track teams so that each could be counted three times, a common practice at other universities.

Perhaps the biggest reason for sports gender bias in our schools during the 21st century is football. In the 2010-11 school year, roughly 1.1 million high school boys took part in football, while only 1,395 girls did. But high school football has the booster clubs, the money, and the facilities. In many places, it’s a religion. And the leaders are well-paid. Two years ago, the head football coach’s six-year contract at the University of Oregon was over $20 million.

Yet Title IX has made amazing changes in women’s sports. Teri Mariani, coach and athletic administer at Portland (OR) State University 40 years ago: “There was only one entrance to the training room, and it was through the men’s locker room. As a female athlete, if you needed to get treatment, you would call the trainer to meet you in the lobby, and he would put a paper bag over your head and lead you through the men’s locker room.”

Even after Title IX became law, women had to fight for their rights. In 1976, Ginny Gilder and her rowing teammates at Yale University frequently got sick after practice. Unlike the men rowers, women had no shower facilities so, cold and wet, they got on the bus. Gilder and her teammates staged a protest in a school administrator’s office. “We all turned around, took off our clothes and stood there naked, with ‘Title IX’ on our backs,” Gilder remembers. Team Captain Chris Ernst read a statement that said, “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting. On a day like today, the ice freezes on this skin.”

Nobody knew the impact that Title IX would have on sports because the law doesn’t mention this. The full text of the law are these 37 words:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Despite the belief 40 years ago the civil rights laws had already done away with discrimination in education, they didn’t. The 1963 Equal Pay Act covers women and men but exempts education. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, origin, color and religion, but not sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act exempts educational activities at schools. And the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not apply to women.

Before Title IX, women needed much higher grades than men to get into a college, and graduate schools set a limit on the number of women admitted. Although no man was denied admission to state universities in Virginia before Title IX, about 21,000 women were not allowed to attend these schools. Cornell’s veterinary school admitted just two women a year; now 70-80% of its vet students are women. Before Title IX, women applying for faculty jobs routinely heard, “Your qualifications are excellent but we already have a woman in this department.” Harvard University’s graduate school of humanities and sciences didn’t hire a female faculty member after 1924 until Title IV went into effect.

I remember when girls in the school where I taught started taking auto and wood shop after the administration had to follow Title IX guidelines. Today that sounds pretty normal, but it was a traumatic change for the teachers in our large, inner-city high school. Pregnant women and parents in high school are no longer forced to attend “special schools” when they want to stay in the regular high schools. I also remember the opposition to allowing a pregnant girl, married to a soldier in Vietnam, to attend the school where I taught.

Gradually during the last 40 years, more and more girls also started taking advanced classes, including calculus and physics. Classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) showed increasing female enrollment.

Title IX brought an explosion of women in higher education so great that some people complain that more women than men attend college. In 1972, women earned fewer than 100,000 degrees in science and engineering; by 2008, women had about 250,000 degrees in these fields. In 1972, women received 7 percent of law degrees and 9 percent of medical degrees. In 2011, those had risen to 47 and 48 percent, respectively. Women earn four times as many doctorates as in 1972.

Title IX also plays an increasing part in trying to control the violence of bullying. Sexual harassment and assault are considered forms of gender discrimination, and Title IX requires schools to take corrective action to stop this harassment and prevent its recurrence once they know about it.

People have Reps. Patsy Mink (D-HI) and Edith Green (D-OR) and Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) for these rights. Mink was the first woman of color to be elected to Congress; she died in 2002. Green was the second Congresswoman elected from Oregon; she died in 1987. Bayh is still practicing law in Washington, D.C.

Bernice Sandler, the first to file lawsuits after failing to be considered for any of several jobs at the University of Maryland and being told in 1969 she came on too strong for a woman, is known as the “Godmother of Title IX” for her activism leading up to this vital equal rights law. One of her stories shows the gender inequity in education.

“When I went to elementary school, I wanted to run the projector,” said Sandler, who grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. “It was very new. It was the height of audio-visual equipment at the time. They wouldn’t let the girls do it. If you asked why, you were told boys were good at that and girls weren’t. I wanted to be a crossing guard, and again they didn’t let girls do it.”

In the 1960s, I was told that I could not have a teaching job because I couldn’t coach football. When I interviewed for another job, I was told that I would have to put off my “family plans” (aka getting pregnant) if I took the job. I thank the people who worked so hard for gender equity in education so that all people today can have some educational equal rights while we work to erase more of the existing inequities.

We can all be grateful to Patsy Mink and Edith Green and Bernice Sandler and Birch Bayh and the others who think that all people should have equal rights.

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